The City of Missoula is working to find the best solution for the people experiencing homelessness and living near the Reserve St. bridge. However, they also want to get the community involved and are looking for feedback and ideas.
The pandemic has played a big role in the increase of people living outside with the loss of over 75 shelter beds and the concern of contracting COVID-19 in crowded communal shelter environments. Now, about 100 people have turned to living outside near the Reserve St. bridge.
"We get calls at the Mayor's office all of the time and they range from 'You should go and arrest all those people and put them in jail today', to, 'Why aren't you helping these people, I want you to use my tax money to help these people and find them housing', and everything in between", said Ginny Merriam, City of Missoula communications director.
Because of the diverse opinions throughout Missoula and the goal of incorporating what the people want, the City says hearing from the majority is crucial when it comes to difficult projects like the Reserve Street encampment. In response, the City has launched engagemissoula.com that people can visit to learn about what is being done and voice ideas.
"Our hope is that we now have, through the engage Missoula page, a one-stop shop to make sure that people understand the broader issue, people understand what is leading to the increase of people living outdoors in the Reserve St. area and again can be part of talking about solutions," said Eran Pehan, housing and community development director.
Currently outreach teams like the Poverello Center and the Hope Rescue Mission are working to provide people experiencing homelessness resources as well as help with cleanup in the area.
On engagemissoula.com, there is a section to submit ideas but the City wants commenters to consider some facts before.
They list homelessness is not a crime, Missoula does not have enough homes that are affordable for individuals and families living outdoors, Missoula does not have adequate behavioral health or addictions services for those in need, the national economy is faltering during the pandemic, the cost of housing an the basic cost of living continues to increase faster than wages rise, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's best practice is not to disperse people who are living outdoors in groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.